the one where it's hard to find the Gospel...
July 12, 2015, 12:00 AM

Sermon from July 12, 2015

Text: Mark 6: 14-29

Grace and peace to you from God our father and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

You know, our Gospel reading today is a little strange. Did you notice that Jesus doesn’t play a part in it? That’s weird isn’t it? It is one of the few gospel texts that we read on Sunday where Jesus plays no direct role – nor does he show up in any way. That’s kind of strange.

Of course, it is a text that as we read it I cannot help, but cry out – Jesus will you please show up! This is a hard one to preach on because it doesn’t seem like there is much gospel within its verses. But, there is a lot going on here and for those who are fans of Netflix’s House of Cards television show – this is a story from our scriptures that could fit right into that shows plotlines. Perhaps mixed a bit with HBO’s Game of Thrones too just for good effect.

So, we have this story about Herod Antipas – the son of Herod the Great who was the Herod in power when Jesus was born.

Needless to say – the Herod in our story has a great deal of power as well. The only unfortunate thing is that he doesn’t seem to be all that in control of his power as a political leader in his realm.

For you see, this whole Gospel story has a lot to do with power, who has it, who doesn’t, and who is really in control. As one of my favorite comic super heroes is known to say – With great power comes great responsibility.

Herod has great power, but he doesn’t have great responsibility.

This is also an interesting story because of where it is placed within Mark’s Gospel. It sits right in the middle of Jesus sending his disciples out to proclaim repentance to the land and those same disciples returning from that time. Herod hears about this and he is afraid.

He’s afraid because he thinks Jesus is John the Baptist come back from the dead. And why would he be afraid? Well, we then go into a flashback of how Herod imprisoned John because of John’s words against Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife; Herodias. Herodias wanted John to die for his words, but Herod wouldn’t kill him because he feared John, knowing he was a righteous man.

Long story short, Herod is greatly pleased by the dance that his wife’s daughter – the text is vague, but we can assume that this is Herod’s young niece/step-daughter. In his pleasure he tells this young girl that he’ll give her anything that she wants – even half his kingdom if she would only ask.

Instead, she speaks with her mother first and Herodias uses this as the opportunity to finally rid herself with the thorn in her side and marriage – John the Baptist. Cue the references to House of Cards and Game of Thrones now if you’d like. Herodias is shrewd and uses Herod’s power against him.

Not to look weak and to stand by his word, Herod reluctantly abides his step-daughter’s wish and presents her and his wife with the recently detached head of John the Baptist – a man that upset him to no end, but who intrigued him greatly with his words.

Where O God is the gospel in this story? It doesn’t seem like there is much – if anything – in these words to comfort us in the knowledge of the gospel. And, I wonder if that’s OK. I think these are one of those times and opportunities that we can look a little outside the text that we have been given to read this week to hopefully see and experience the gospel of our Lord.

Like, I said earlier – this text is all about power and righteousness and responsibility. As we read from all of our texts today, we see the power motif played up. Ultimately, we can discern that it isn’t ‘us’ who have the power. It isn’t even the ones who have power in the world that ‘have the absolute power.’ That absolute power rests solely with God.

You see, the disciples were sent out to proclaim repentance from sins – the same message that John the Baptist proclaimed zealously even while imprisoned by Herod – in full knowledge of what happened to John.

We like to think that news didn’t travel very fast or accurately during this time, and compared to us in the modern age – it was just a bit slower. Even without computers, the internet, and cell phones – we as people have a great talent in spreading news like wildfire. I am confident that the knowledge of John’s beheading was fresh on the minds of those disciples of Jesus that were sent out to proclaim repentance to the people of Israel.

They knew what happened to John, they knew what could happen to them as well. Yet, they still went. They went with nothing, but the clothes on their backs. No extra stuff – totally dependent upon the people they would meet along their way.

In knowledge of a world hostile to their message, they still went out to proclaim repentance from sin and asking the people to turn back to God.

That’s power – that’s power that can only come from God.

I read this story and I cannot help, but think of our sisters and brothers in the faith who live in situations and in certain places where they are actually persecuted and killed for their beliefs as Christians. Those sisters and brothers do not live in Newberry, they don’t even live in the United States – because we don’t have to fear death because of what we believe.

I think of those martyrs around the world who have died at the hands of those who don’t agree with them simply because they profess Christ crucified. We don’t have to worry about that here in the US. Where we are free to practice and profess our beliefs. There are others who are not afforded that luxury and freedom at all.

In spite of the knowledge that they could be killed for their beliefs, they still proclaim. They still preach forgiveness. They still call for repentance.

So too do the disciples that we read of last week go off at Jesus’ words. And they will return from their missions in full knowledge of what happened to John the Baptist.

You see, God’s power works in ways the powers of the world do not. The powers of the world will attempt to squash out or prevent that word from reaching the ears that need to hear – that yearn to hear of radical love, incredible forgiveness, and repentance.

For the powers that hold sway in our world – that’s not a message that they want to get out – it definitely wasn’t a message that Herodias and Herod wanted others to hear. People in power don’t like to be reminded that they should repent. To be given a public message of new perspective.

Jesus does his ministry and his disciple proclaim this message in full knowledge of this recent history – this history that involved the death of one who proclaimed a similar message.

Jesus’ ministry is done in spite and despite the risk it involves. The good news is that Jesus is at work even in the midst of turmoil and threat of death and destruction. Jesus doesn’t stop proclaiming simply because the powers of the world foam and rage.

Naysayers – protesters – filibusters – soldiers – rebels – insurgents – nothing – not one thing – stops Jesus from proclaiming and sending us out to proclaim the gospel.

The power of Christ far exceeds and goes past what the powers of the world are capable of doing. That message of acceptance, radical love, incredible forgiveness, and repentance is a message that is going to get heard. And we get to be the ones who proclaim this in, and for, and through Christ our Lord.

As we’ve seen in Mark’s gospel the past few weeks, that proclamation can involve risk. In spite of the risk, Jesus is still at work and we are still sent. For the absolute power ultimately rests in God our Lord and Savior. Amen.

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